Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 1, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 1, 2004

Letting A Child Go Still Hard Even At Age 22
Barbara and I watched uneasily last Wednesday as Steven moved through the security checkpoint at the airport. It wasn’t because he ignored the repeated cautions to remove his laptop from its case, but because he was headed out of our limited influence, beyond any control and, for a while, out of contact.
It also didn’t help that he was flying into Taipei, Taiwan, for a 10-month stay just after a huge typhoon had hit, dumping 27 inches of rain in 36 hours and causing flash floods in the city. Online weather reports suggested that gusts of up to 110 mph might still exist when he landed (which did not turn out to be accurate).
We had to assume he made it through security, because we could not see for sure. At least we could detect no sudden flurry of activity headed to the screening area, so we felt reasonably comfortable that he’d boarded the right plane and would wind up in Taipei via Detroit and Japan. We left, and wondered when we might next hear from him.
Compared to other destinations – soldiers off to war or kids heading to Peace Corps duty in third-world countries – a year in Taiwan would seem to be a safe place for someone turning 22 today to spend time. But as children imagine monsters under the bed at night, parents conjure up all kinds of images of disaster when the kids are out of reach.
Suddenly, we took an interest in Taiwan. We checked the weather reports online, grimaced over the recent story that (good news!) it would take China 15 days rather than the six previously figured to overrun Taiwan in the event of an invasion, and clucked upon reading the concerns that an avian flu pandemic might start just across the straight in mainland China, killing millions worldwide. We checked for e-mail more often than usual and even went online to see if he’d used his credit card.
The call came at about 6:30 Friday morning – 6:30 Friday evening there. Steven had endured a long, uneventful flight, been met by a “sponsor” at the airport, moved into a dorm with another UGA student and everything was fine. No high winds, flash floods or pandemic, just good food laced with onions and garlic, even at breakfast. The monsters disappeared from under the bed for awhile, due to resurface if there is no e-mail within a couple of days.
The day Steven left, we bravely entered his bedroom seeking to create order out of chaos and while clearing out the closet came across a bag of old letters sent by his grandfather to his grandmother during World War II that Barbara had stowed there pending final disposition. How much more stressful it must have been before the advent of easy phone communication, let alone e-mail, when loved ones were separated. We expect to be able to communicate with Steven almost instantly and at no cost via e-mail; his grandparents had to wait weeks to hear the news. That is a comfort beyond reckoning.
Technology brings us closer together, but separation is still separation. You hate to see the kids go, but know they need to. It’s all part of growing up, not only for the kids, but also for the parents.


Editorials
The Commerce News
September 1
, 2004

Payback’ A Trojan Horse For County’s Taxpayers
The Shared Services agreements being approved by Jackson County and all of its cities contain a trojan horse that will haunt this county for decades. The water and sewer territorial agreements so reduce the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority’s service areas that its future is threatened
The county government orchestrated the downsizing, a final attack by a discredited board of commissioners against an authority they’ve crusaded against for more than two years. The city governments, recipients of the county largess, are only too happy to accept new opportunities for growth.
The long-term result, however, is a liability to all county taxpayers, for an authority stripped of its profit centers and unable to pay its debt service will have to be rescued by the county taxpayers. That’s the pay-back the commissioners have given voters for the stirring lack-of-confidence vote of the July primary.
The knife in the gut of the authority is to take the authority’s system in Arcade, which was built by the authority, and turn it over to Arcade. In addition to preventing the authority from capitalizing on its huge investment in the city, the move also requires the authority to provide water to the customers it has lost and guarantees duplication of services between the authority and Arcade that the Shared Services agreements are supposed to eliminate.
When it built water lines in and through Arcade, the authority engineered them to accommodate growth the authority both anticipated and needed. Now, the authority will become a wholesaler and Arcade area residents will be forced to buy water at an inflated price to cover Arcade’s cost and to provide for its revenue stream. That move should make residents of a community whose major revenue source is the fleecing of motorists on the new bypass nervous indeed.
This is not an issue likely to resonate with Commerce area voters, but it should. Last year, the commissioners repeatedly suggested that city taxpayers would have to pay to help retire the Bear Creek debt if the water authority defaulted – which they predicted – even though Commerce gets no water from the reservoir. The Shared Services agreements put the authority much more at risk of defaulting on the Bear Creek and other debt, and Commerce voters share that risk. Reducing the potential revenue of a group the commissioners themselves said have revenue challenges seems a less than subtle attempt to guarantee that the disaster they warned about happens.
This board of commissioners also repeatedly criticized its predecessor for last-minute intergovernmental agreements it said were detrimental to the county. Now, repudiated by the voters for four years of political mayhem, it is doing the same thing. January 1 can’t come soon enough.
There is very little recourse. The authority has voted to file a suit, but it will soon get three new members appointed by the lame-duck commissioners and the odds are they will vote to drop the suit. The incoming board of commissioners could try to extricate itself from the Shared Services agreements, but that would start a territorial war – and perhaps new suits – with the nine municipalities. It’s a classic example of politicians exacting revenge at the expense of the voters.
If the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority develops financial problems, remember the five men now serving as commissioners. In addition to stripping the authority of its leadership and orchestrating the needless buyout of its general manager, they have sharply reduced the authority’s growth potential. If the worst happens and the authority defaults on its bonds and loans, these five commissioners will be delighted to know they’ve helped fulfill their own dire predictions, even though they’ve left the taxpayers to foot the bill. That’s what this group of commissioners calls “getting it done.”

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 2004

Inferiority complex driving politics
I have developed a new political theory that explains why crazy things happen in politics. My theory is very simple: Stupidity in government is in direct proportion to the size of a government’s inferiority complex.
Nowhere are there more examples of that than here in Jackson County where individual and collective political inferiority complexes drive 90 percent of the political debate.
Here are just a few examples:

Example 1: The new county judicial center (courthouse).
It’s a monstrosity of a building, a huge edifice to government excess and waste. A nice, functional building could have been built for half of the $35 million wasted on this facility. But our current county leaders have a huge inferiority complex and were driven to build as big and expensive a building as possible just to show how “important” they considered themselves to be. Rather than building something reasonable, they sought to build as lavish and expensive a palace as possible. Somehow, they thought that would assuage their own feelings of inferiority, but all it did was waste millions of taxpayer dollars. A big inferiority complex was the cornerstone of that huge building.

Example 2: Arcade wanting to get into the water and sewer business.
This is a classic example of how a small town government wants to be something larger and more important. It’s an inferiority complex driven by size — small town leaders want to be big town leaders — thus those leaders dream of having a larger government over which to govern. One way to do that is to add new government functions, in this example, a water and sewer department. Yet no one in Arcade has explained why the small town needs to get into the water business. No one has pointed out where customers aren’t currently being served, or shown how the town itself could better serve its citizens than under the current arrangement. It’s simply a political inferiority complex — a small town wanting to be bigger and more important.

Example 3: Pendergrass creating its own police department, its own zoning board and now its own recreation board.
Like Arcade, Pendergrass has long been a small town that wants a larger and more important role on the political stage. Town leaders have long resented the fact that nearby Jefferson put in water and sewerage lines and annexed property between I-85 and Pendergrass in the 1980s. Now the town is moving to sever ties will all other local governments and to establish its own independent political kingdom, funded in large part by a speed trap that is a cash cow for the small town. Driven by their own insecurity, town leaders have embarked on a politically schizophrenic course. Trouble is, the only voices they hear are their own.

Example 4: Commerce leaders bellyaching about everyone else in the county.
Commerce is the county’s largest town and has the largest concentration of commercial enterprises. So one might think that town leaders wouldn’t have any kind of inferiority complex. Yet, Commerce political leaders have perhaps the biggest inferiority complex of any group of leaders in the county. Commerce leaders are paranoid that the rest of the county is getting something they aren’t — growth, industries, money. There is a deep-seated inferiority complex among Commerce leaders who believe the rest of the county is out to “hurt” Commerce and that the rest of the county, especially Braselton and Jefferson, have some kind of unfair advantage. Never mind that Braselton is 20 miles closer to Metro Atlanta than Commerce, or that Jefferson years ago did what Commerce refused to do and invested in water and sewer infrastructure along I-85. Commerce leaders don’t want to be confused by such facts and would rather believe that somehow the two towns are getting industries that really should be locating in Commerce. It’s unfair, say Commerce leaders, and they want their “fair share” of growth too. But it has nothing to do with any unfairness and is rather a distorted perception which stems from a collective inferiority complex among provincial-minded Commerce politicians.

All of these political leaders have lost sight of the fact that the local governments they represent were created to serve the needs of citizens.
Local governments do not exist to massage the egos and stroke the vanity of politicians.
Local governments do not exist so that local bigwigs can profit personally from holding a political office.
And local governments do not exist for narrow-minded leaders to assuage their inferiority complexes.
When governments are run by those who have such emotional handicaps, bad decisions get made. And it is you and I, the average taxpayers, who ultimately pay a high price for politicians who are driven by psychological demons.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
September 1
, 2004

Chopping up water service could hurt county
The future of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority is in limbo following a move by the board of commissioners to emasculate its territory. In response, the water authority has refused to seat two newly-appointed BOC members and recently voted to sue the county over the new water maps.
What a mess. Indeed, this situation has been in the making for the past three and one-half years, following a number of efforts by the BOC to take over the water authority and put its functions directly under the thumb of county politicians.
The result of that politicizing process has been to undermine the water authority and now to give away some of its territory to other jurisdictions, most notably Arcade.
While the water authority has a legitimate gripe about the BOC’s actions, that doesn’t mean the authority should engage in litigation. Indeed, even if a lawsuit does move forward today, when the “new” authority members are seated, it will quickly be dropped. We see little point in engaging in litigation that is doomed from the outset.
As for the dispute over who can legally sit on the authority today, again we see little point in fighting what will ultimately be a losing battle. It would be better, we believe, for the authority to seat its two new members and let everyone lay their cards on the table for the whole world to see. If the new appointees are just puppets of the BOC, that will soon be apparent. If they are not, then they deserve a chance to prove their independence.
Still, we are deeply troubled by the BOC’s move to chop up the water authority’s service area. We don’t believe that Arcade, Pendergrass or the county’s other small towns not currently in the water business have the financial wherewithal to get into delivering that service.
Moreover, we’re not sure some of these small towns have the political will to avoid developers’ pressure to allow high-density housing where water and sewerage lines are made available. Just last week, Pendergrass approved a high-density project that was made possible only because of a nearby sewerage line.
Both Arcade and Pendergrass leaders argue that they want to be able to set their own destiny without having to work with the county water authority. But if the actions taken by those towns will negatively affect a larger area, as high-density housing undoubtedly will, then we don’t believe it is wise to allow those small towns even more control. Indeed, we believe it serves a useful purpose of checks-and-balances for those towns to work with an independent water authority.
There are several serious legal issues at play in this move to chop up the county water authority’s service area, but at this point, they may be moot. The authority is now dominated by political appointees of the current BOC.
And as with so many other areas of county government, the water authority is being left in shambles by a politically corrupt administration.


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